By its own estimate, the government made about $100 billion in payments last year to people who may not have been entitled to receive them—tax credits to families that didn't qualify, unemployment benefits to people who had jobs, and medical payments for treatments that might not have been necessary. Each year, federal agencies are required to estimate the amount of improper payments they issue; the House Oversight subcommittee on government operations is holding a hearing on improper payments this afternoon. Some improper payments are the result of fraud, while others are unintentional, caused by clerical errors; others were deemed improper because they were issued without proper documentation.
The Obama administration has reduced the amount of improper payments since they peaked in 2010 at $121 billion. Still, "the federal government's own astounding estimate is more than half a trillion dollars over the past five years," said Rep. John Mica, the Republican chair of the subcommittee. "The fact is, improper payments are staggeringly high in programs designed to help those most in need—children, seniors, and low-income families." Some 24% of payments made under the earned income tax credit program last year were deemed improper, as were 9% of payments under the unemployment insurance program. Click for more details on where the improper payments went. (Read more US government stories.)